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pedal power

Katie Mae Ussery, 7, a second-grader at Sternberger Elementary, and her mother, Bonnie DeBlois, walk to school along Wedgedale Avenue on International Walk & Bike to School Day on Wednesday. DeBlois, who parked at a church on Friendly Avenue, said they don’t walk to school everyday: “We live a little too far away.”

Today's heat might break October record in Greensboro, but cool-down is coming

GREENSBORO — Today’s high temperature could be a record-breaker for October.

And that’s on the heels of Wednesday’s 94-degree temperature, which broke that day’s previous record of 91 set in 1986.

Greensboro’s hottest October day on record is 95 degrees, set on Oct. 5, 1954. We could match that today, “if not a couple of degrees hotter,” said Mike Strickler, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh.

“There’s a very persistent and unusually strong high pressure centered over the Appalachians,” Strickler said, and that’s causing the air to sink and warm.

The hot weather, combined with a broken air-conditioning system, sent students at Rankin Elementary home at noon Wednesday, Guilford County Schools announced on its Facebook page. ACES and after-school activities also were canceled because of the heat.

Guilford County Schools spokesman Janson Silvers said the air-conditioning system was expected to be fixed by today, so classes should resume as normal.

However, the heat will continue affecting high school sports.

Grimsley’s football team moved its Wednesday practice indoors to Sawyer Gymnasium, and the kickoff for the Whirlies’ junior varsity football game today at East Forsyth has been moved from 6 to 7 p.m., an hour closer to sundown. A girls tennis match scheduled for Wednesday at Ragsdale on heat-absorbing hardcourts was moved to Monday, when the forecast high is 76 degrees.

Northern Guilford’s varsity football team also moved its practice into the school gym. And the Nighthawks will conduct their workout at 6:30 a.m., before school and the heat of the day.

Guilford County Schools uses the WetBulb Globe Temperature measure, which includes such elements as humidity and cloud cover, to determine if it is safe to hold practices or games during hot weather.

The high temperatures also will likely worsen Greensboro’s abnormally dry conditions. The Piedmont Triad region was abnormally dry with moderate drought conditions as of last week, according to ncdrought.org, and “that will likely expand and get worse,” Strickler said. The drought map will be updated today.

Temperatures should begin to break late today or early Friday, when a “moisture-starved” cold front moves into the area, Strickler said.

Low temperatures tonight will be around 70, with the high Friday in the mid-80s.

“Cooler air will be moving in, setting up a nice weekend with temperatures in the low 70s Saturday,” Strickler said. They’ll rise slightly, to the upper 70s for Sunday. Low temperatures overnight Friday and Saturday will be in the 50s.

“This should be the end of the extreme heat for the end of this season,” Strickler said.

As for the drought, no rain is expected until possibly the middle of next week, when a cold front moves through the region, he said.

An interesting article in today's newspaper

Failure to launch: For the second time, Samsung’s first folding-screen smartphone is a flop. Page B3

Hardister has second thoughts on Medicaid compromise

State Rep. Jon Hardister has lost enthusiasm for a Republican-led compromise he co-sponsored to expand Medicaid coverage for lower-income residents.

The Republican legislator from Whitsett said he no longer supports the measure largely out of concern that if it becomes law, it could get tied up in a costly court battle over requirements that able-bodied recipients hold jobs and pay relatively small premiums.

“I’m a ‘No’ at this point given the current composition of the bill,” Hardister said. “I’ve had quite a lot of feedback on both sides of the issue.”

Though no longer a supporter, Hardister continues to be listed among the bill’s co-sponsors, including 14 Republican and four Democratic state representatives. Three other Republican legislators, led by state Rep. Donny Lambeth of Winston-Salem, are primary sponsors.

The measure, House Bill 655, is an effort to reach middle ground with Gov. Roy Cooper and other Democrats who have made expanding the state Medicaid program a top legislative priority.

The two sides have been at loggerheads for months over the Medicaid issue, which was a factor in Cooper’s decision to veto the 2019-21 budget.

The GOP-inspired Medicaid measure originally introduced by Lambeth would extend the possibility of health coverage to an estimated 365,000 lower-income North Carolina residents who “are either not employed full-time or are not making enough money to afford health insurance coverage.”

“This bill is well-intentioned and it is worth considering,” Hardister said via email. “While this bill has work requirements and premium requirements for able-bodied adults, I fear that these requirements would get struck down in court.”

He said that he’s learned of “at least three other states that have expanded Medicaid with a work requirement, only to see those requirements tied up in litigation.”

Supporters of the bill say that while it’s not perfect, it would help a lot of people who really need a hand while benefiting the larger community as well.

“Getting affordable health coverage to low-income, uninsured people has been shown to reduce the cost of health care across the board, including for people who are privately insured,” said Rob Thompson, deputy director of the nonprofit group NC Child that advocates for policies and programs helping the state’s youth.

Thompson’s group recently distributed a news release touting Hardister as “a pivotal vote” on the bill that’s known formally as “NC Health Care for Working Families.”

Upon learning Wednesday that Hardister had changed his position, Thompson said that was unfortunate but added he still hopes there is enough support among GOP legislators to push the bill through the 120-seat state House, which has 65 Republicans and 55 Democrats.

Hardister said in reassessing the measure, he believes, among other things, that North Carolina should develop programs that focus more intensely on treatment for mental disorders and substance-abuse recovery.

“Some states that have expanded Medicaid have experienced cost overruns and enrollment that exceeded projections,” Hardister said. “This makes it hard to predict and control costs.”

Recent research supported by Cone Health Foundation found that in Guilford County, an expanded Medicaid program would make more than 35,000 people newly eligible for health coverage.

That research by the Milken Institute at George Washington University projected that Medicaid expansion would create 2,700 jobs in Guilford within three years, pump about $683 million into the local economy and boost county tax revenue by $7.6 million from 2020 to 2022.

As it stands now in North Carolina, adult Medicaid recipients must either have a qualifying disability or be a parent with children at home earning below 44 percent of the federal poverty level — or less than $1,000 per month for a family of four.

If the bill becomes law, North Carolina would join 37 other states that have extended Medicaid coverage. It would provide coverage to those earning a monthly income of about $2,850 for a four-person family.

The federal government then would pay 90 percent of the additional cost, with the remainder covered through an assessment paid by the state’s health systems. Those health systems would benefit from the expansion by serving more patients who can pay their medical bills.

State Rep. John Faircloth of High Point, who also signed onto the bill as a Republican co-sponsor, said Wednesday that he remains a supporter.

“I think the greatest value that I hoped for was that it would bring people to the table and stop throwing rocks at each other,” Faircloth said of the contentious atmosphere in Raleigh.

He added that everyone can agree “there’s a void out there for a large number of people who need good health care and simply cannot afford it.”

Democrats say they would prefer a “clean” Medicaid expansion that offered lower wage earners access to coverage without work requirements or demands that they pay premiums.

State Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Greensboro, said the bill’s work requirements and enforced premiums are just extra baggage that do not serve a useful purpose.

“Most people who need this already are working,” she said, noting that enforcing work and a premium mandate likely would cost more than any savings or added revenue it might produce.

But she and many fellow Democrats, including state Rep. Amos Quick of Greensboro, still support the GOP initiative as at least a step in what they would call the right direction.

“My first, second and third choice is a clean Medicaid expansion. So it’s not preferable or optimal,” Quick said of the GOP version. “But if it’s the choice we have to make, then I would be inclined to support something rather than nothing.”

He, Harrison and many other Democrats had sponsored a competing bill earlier in the session that would have expanded Medicaid without any strings — a proposal that never made it out of committee.

Rural N.C. Republicans to GOP legislators: Reject 'national party stance' on Medicaid

RALEIGH — These days, support for Medicaid expansion in North Carolina varies from Republican to Republican.

Republicans in the state House are working on a proposal to expand the federal coverage program for the poor. Republicans in the Senate say they’re not interested in Medicaid expansion. Meanwhile, some Republicans in rural North Carolina feel neglected as they await solutions.

“We don’t have the luxury of doing things based on some national political party’s stance on some issue,” Dale Wiggins, chairman of the Graham County commissioners, told Republican Senate leader Phil Berger in a recent letter.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the GOP’s proposed state budget largely because he wanted to negotiate Medicaid expansion. The Obama-era Affordable Care Act allows for expansion, and 36 states, including some under Republican control, have decided to go along. The proposition is dividing North Carolina Republicans.

The House compromise, House Bill 655 — NC Health Care for Working Families — includes a work requirement and a premium of 2% of the person’s income. Both are additions to Medicaid expansion that Democrats do not want. And some Republicans don’t want any kind of Medicaid expansion at all.

Berger said Tuesday the work requirements are just “window dressing” and had been shot down by the courts in other states.

The House hasn’t so far approved the GOP compromise. Rep. Donny Lambeth, a Forsyth County Republican, told reporters when the bill was in committee a few weeks ago that he wanted to work out questions raised before getting it ready for a floor vote.

Republicans say expansion adds to the federal deficit and raises the possibility that the federal government won’t always pay the bulk of the costs as it does now.

Lambeth said he’s talked about the issue to civic groups and others, trying to explain it, and that some conservatives have told him they don’t like it because they think it’s Medicaid expansion. When he tells them about the work requirement, that there’s no state funding and that it includes preventative care they are more supportive.

Lambeth is sticking to the work requirement, which can also be volunteer work, and the premiums.

Berger stopped short of saying Senate Republicans would automatically reject the bill.

“We’ll have to look and see what comes over” from the House — and then discuss it, he said.

Berger said, however, that they are looking at ways to cover the working poor who are not eligible for Medicaid and can’t afford private insurance. He said Senate Republicans do not think Medicaid expansion is the answer to that, citing fiscal uncertainties.

“Make no mistake, the House bill is Medicaid expansion,” Berger said. “I do not support it.”

In a September health committee meeting, Rep. Becky Carney, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, said the work requirement would add bureaucratic red tape and administrative costs.

On Tuesday, Democratic lawmakers held a hearing on Medicaid expansion at the Legislative Building.

The board, which has four Republicans and a Democrat, released a statement on Aug. 26 supporting House Bill 655 and saying commissioners “understand that the majority of uninsured individuals in North Carolina are employed but do not make enough money to afford health insurance coverage.”

On Sept. 10, Berger sent a letter to Graham commissioners hoping to clarify the situation. He suggested commissioners had been misled by a letter from Cooper “that doesn’t provide all of the facts.”

Berger encouraged the board to “contact Governor Cooper and tell him to drop his single-issue ultimatum and support the budget passed by the General Assembly.”

The board apparently didn’t appreciate Berger’s letter. Wiggins, the board’s chairman, responded to Berger in a Sept. 16 letter.

“Here in Graham County, Senator, we are accustomed to being ignored by not only the governor but by our legislature as well,” Wiggins wrote.

“We supported Medicaid expansion because our citizens need it. Did you know Senator that our poverty level is near 30%?”

The decline of manufacturing left Graham County without a large private employer, Wiggins said. Given the dire circumstances, he said commissioners have to consider solutions that aren’t GOP ideas.

“While some politicians like to operate as ‘one size fits all,’ that approach doesn’t fit rural NC,” he told Berger.

“The reality is in places like Graham County,” Wiggins said, “a mom or dad working at McDonald’s or Wendy’s for just over minimum wage cannot afford $1,500 a month for insurance.”

Wiggins concluded his letter by suggesting legislators don’t understand his county’s hardship.

“You know, Senator Berger,” he said, “for some people who have good paying jobs and good health insurance it is easy to say that those without health insurance just need to go to work, isn’t it?”

Asked for comment on Wiggins’ letter Tuesday, Berger spokesman Pat Ryan said the Senate leader appreciated the commissioner’s feedback.

“While Senator Berger disagrees that Medicaid expansion is good policy, the health care access issues raised by the Graham County Commissioners are real,” Ryan said. He again called on Cooper to drop “his Medicaid-or-nothing ultimatum” and to negotiate health policy apart from the budget.